I Wish I’d Met You Earlier

‘If I could change anything I’d go back in time and meet you earlier so I would have more time with you.’

imageOf course for that to work I’d actually have to go further back than you might think. I’d have to go back to the relationships before I met you, to the therapies and jobs and life lessons and various family functions when I festered with free floating rage and self loathing. The feelings that led me to some of the terrible decisions I made that left me looking for you in my early 30’s via the internet, wasting one Saturday night after another with the wrong people engaged in the same search. And of course you’d have to go back and relive all you’d lived to get back to the same place at the same time. In the end even that wouldn’t give us so much as a fighters chance of creating the events necessary to ensure another 5-10 years with each other.

The truth is had we met earlier I wouldn’t have been ‘the one’ yet and you may not have been either, though I have a harder time thinking that. Truth is we had to get to where we met, separately. In hindsight it was the only way it could have happened. Had you met me earlier you’d have met an even more imperfect man.

But we didn’t meet earlier. Life knew when and where you were going to be and made sure that I was ready. Made sure I had resolved my old and musty issues and was better able to understand how little I knew. Made sure I had learned, even if only in theory, that the person you love and commit to is not meant to be the end of the challenges and the resolution of all discomforts but rather they are your help and comfort while facing them. Life made sure I knew that it was my job to be that for you, too. That the dream of finding someone to love and be loved by was not the equivalent of going on permanent vacation. That it was not your pillows fluffed and your sheets turned down and rooms cleaned magically and freshly stocked paper products everywhere you looked. It was not nonstop nights of endless passion and wine and late night bathroom window cigarettes and days full of endless entertainment.

Wedding DayLife brought us to the same place at a time when we were ready to commit. To face the challenges and monotony and joys and unknown glories of having someone to do it all with. To commit not only to someone that could make the highs pure bliss, but also someone who could endure the lows, tell you your crazy and put up with the issues you haven’t resolved. Someone who will love you if you never resolve them. Someone who can write all these things at 12:51 in the morning after we didn’t have our best goodnight ever and never ever have to worry that that means anything other than we each have to figure out what it is we have to apologize for. Because this is real. I’m forever thankful for you. You absorb my frustrations and reflect my joys. You make the bad times quick and the good times permanent. I hope I can do at least some of the same for you.

None of this could have happened any earlier than it did no matter how much later it was than either of us might have expected it.

That said, it does leave me sad in one specific way.

I’m thrilled that Charlie is who he is and that Teddy is who he is. Specifically. Had it been another time they would have been other people. They wouldn’t exist as we know them. So in that sense I’m so happy it happened when it did.  But now I’m left looking at them and thinking…

‘I wish I could have met you sooner so I could have had more time with you.’

imageIt’s impossible for me not to project out now that they are with us. It’s hard to look down the road and know that at 20 I’m whispering to 60.  The math gets more unnerving from there. I’m not going to live forever. It’s something that hit me the second our first was born. Perhaps I’m dumb. We all know it doesn’t last forever. To say that it occurred to me at the moment Charlie was born is to somehow suggest I hadn’t known it all along. I did. I mean I knew people died and I knew I was a person. So, ipso facto and ergo and whatnot. But not like now. Now I’m going to die on my kids. I mean, even in the best case scenarios I die and leave them behind. But at my age the chance is it’s going to be when I would have been too young for my parents to go.

I didn’t learn to even start appreciating my parents until my 30’s. Not in the way they deserved. Not in the way that’s a bit more reflective of the amazing job they did  And my god, I’ve needed them more these days than I can ever remember needing them. I understand how silly and sweet that sentiment must sound to them. I ‘get them’ now that I’m a parent.  It must be cute to them to think I think I ‘need them’ now more than ever. Because those early days, my prehistory, the prehistory that is the equivalent to the one my kids are living now, concurrent with the peak of vibrant life for me are days they won’t  remember. They’re our days, actually, not theirs. Theirs come later. And I was their third. Of six. And there were a few more. I have two and I’ve needed them for all of it.

It worries me to no end that I’ll die while they still need me. The early days are just like that, and I’m still in the early days. But the deeper fear is that I’ll die without them being ready, without them being of an age or established in the life that will be there’s to live, that’s the one I can’t shake. I know no one is ever ready. I know I won’t be. But I’ll have a home, a wife and a job and my boys. I fear leaving them before they have any of this. Before they have roots.

There’s also a selfish piece to it all. I want to live long enough for them to forgive all the things we’ll get wrong and to see us as people, who loved them all the way through, even through the hard times when they couldn’t see why we did what we did. Through the times when we get it wrong. When they couldn’t see the love that was at the root of it all. Because having kids and being a parent and a spouse, it’s made me understand my parents in a way nothing else could. It made me love them in a way that’s oddly equivalent to how much I loved them when I was just Charlie and Teddy’s ages now, when they were my whole world and I was theirs and it made all of us special. There’s a symmetry now and I can see all that they did. I once again think of my parents as something so much more than ‘just people’. It’s your job to realize that they are in fact just people as you depart your family of origin. You have to see them for all their humanity and in that you find shortcomings and magnify them. It’s a part of your liftoff you have to exercise. It’s the balance to those years when they were the sun and the moon. It provides you perspective. But if you’re lucky enough, like I am, you get to come around on that later and see how superhuman their lives have been. I’m back to a place where I can tell them unabashedly how much their love means to me. How much I love them. I want that with my boys. I want to make it there.

‘I wish I’d met them earlier so we would have had more time together.’

In the end..

For me it won’t be a question 

I won’t consider our connection

The love I’ll feel will not be new

I’m the lucky one for knowing you

Close my eyes I’m standing on toes

Reaching for the hugs you gave me 

Striving for the love I’ve taken

Eventually I’ll know it in my bones 

That the love you gave was mine alone

So special did you make me feel

That never did I want or reel

From blows I fought that never came

And loves I lost for not a thing

In the end it won’t be like that

You have seen to giving me

A taut and tough security

No in the end I’ll never wonder

Of all the love I’ve thrown asunder 

No in the end what I’ll succumb to 

Is did you know how much I loved you.

I Don’t Have the Words

I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully articulate how I love my kids. Were it a quantifiable thing I’d give you a number. As it is I don’t think any sophisticated adult has ever improved on the simple claim made by all of us lucky enough to have been loved as a child who have spread our arms wide and said, ‘I love you this much!’

img_4923Charlie is the sweetest boy and he will stop us to make sure we are listening, in the middle of getting ready for bed or when we are cooking or whenever, to tell us, ‘I love you. You’re the best daddy.’ or, ‘Mommy, I love you more than anything ever!’

‘Oh, Charlie.’ I gasp, ‘I love you so much, you are the most wonderful boy.’

I wish words were more evolved. I wish our minds, our full creativity could describe what flows through you as a parent. All of it is extreme. The frustrations, the joys the exhaustion‘s and elation‘s. The simple act of falling for your child, for me an act that happened in an instant, opens a vein you didn’t know you had. It pours from you in every way you can imagine.

I didn’t appreciate the love I was given as a child, not fully at least, until I discovered it from the other side. Until I looked intently at my own kid and marveled and recoiled and felt the bond between us so deeply that it seemed I could reach out and hold it.

img_5026Teddy is my little man and I can’t get over his curiosity. He’s trying all the time that his brother is around to compete, a thing that looks different in a younger brother than an older one. His focus primarily is on his big brother but his quiet moments are the ones that steal my heart. He can smile when your head shares a pillow with his and he wants to tell you about all the things he is thinking. About his ideas and plans, about how much he loves mommy and Charlie and me. He builds big and little bridges to you and everyone one at a time. It’s magic.

On the other side of this newfound entity of love for my kids is an equally newfound fear. One that could only exist in relation to my fondness for these boys. I’m terribly afraid of random tragedy now. While they have opened me up, have cracked the shell around my heart, they have also made me a vigilant hawk. See, I’m now and forevermore aware that there is something infinitely more tragic that can happen than there ever was prior to now.

The first week it paralyzed us to a degree. We had no idea that there was something so awful as the fears of a parent before they hit us. People can’t wait to tell you about the lack of sleep and the magic of babies. They don’t tell you that the most tragic of ends now comes to reside in your resting imagination.

I never so feared my own death before knowing that it would effect my own kids. It never occurred to me to think of it. Now if Karen so much as has a cold I’m worried, only for a moment at a time, but I worry there’s something bigger hidden in her cough. If I’m making dinner and she’s picking up the kids and they are a few minutes late my brain arrives, in an instant, at a place where I can imagine all three of them, struggling in an overturned car, or thrown from the car, scared and alone in their final moments. I know. IT’S AWFUL!!

But as quick as it comes it disappears and I’m back to worrying about whether or not I should use the last of the celery as it’s Charlie’s go to and whether or not T will eat the string beans or should I not bother to make them.

I don’t know what the word would be to describe these things, these rushes between otherworldly levels of joy and dread and monotony, but there should be a word. It seems to be a universal feeling and across the board it seems unknowable until the instant you fall for that kid and unshakable from that point forward.

Grabbing Life, Holding On

img_2962With every age and stage there comes certain signs. Signs that my little boys are running out of time to be ‘little boys’. It’s not such a bad thing. In fact, for them it’s the most exciting thing you could imagine. The walls are starting to come down. Well, perhaps not, but they are certainly moving further and further out and for my sweet rambunctious boys this is very, very exciting. From time to time they will pretend they are babies. Not in any real way, but they will say, ‘I’m a baby…’ in a silly voice, smile, giggle and laugh at the absurdity. They are decidedly little boys and we are accepting as best we can that we’ll never have our babies again.

img_2921Like so many parents before us, we know they will always be our babies. It’ll be a metaphor to them, but it won’t be to us. They will be our two and only babies and we will hold them, if only in our hearts, as closely and tenderly as if they were newly wrapped and leaving the hospital for the first time for the rest of our lives.

But that will be it. The rest of our lives. The seemingly inexhaustible but ever diminishing time we have left with them, here amongst them, able to hug and be hugged is also being put into stark relief with each barrier breached and each new independence learned and granted. As they go through life reveling in the ever greater autonomy of being a ‘big boy’ another tiny tick passes and we are closer to the end. Not noticeably so, not always, but the big ones can pierce the bubble we’ve so happily stayed in during these early years. Can make us aware if not of our own ticking clocks then those of their time left in the bubble we’ve created and cared for and patched up and loved. As they grab life that is out there waiting for them we are hard pressed to let go of another tiny piece of it that we’d give anything to keep in our grasp til the end of time.

img_2930It’s joyous. I don’t want you to misunderstand. It’s a faint feeling of time passing and is easily overwhelmed by the joys we share as they start there journey’s. But it is a real feeling. A real sense of life’s passing. We are older parents and we aren’t so quick to let feelings slide passed as we once were. I suppose that’s true for all parents, regardless of age. But with the years we bring to the task comes a thought that this second act that will happen when they no longer need the minute to minute, the meal to meal, the day to day or week to week attention they once did may be more on the down slope of our time here, our time with them. It’s jarring to think, but comforting as well. As long as we can make it long enough to know they are safe, to know they are loved and to know that they know how wonderful this all is, than knowing this is the thing, being a parent and doing our best to make foster this family, we’re pretty happy having that be the thing we go out on. The last and best of what we did while we were so lucky to be here.img_2978

How I Measure

It’s in how I tell my tales
All of it
All of me is there
If you are ever curious

I measure my sorrow in tears
I measure my joy with them as well
Joy is in the laughs
As is some pain

I measure my love in work
And in hugs and kisses
Love is in kind words
It’s even found buried in hard ones

My anger is measured by words unspoken
And by words hidden away until no one is looking
Uttered loud enough for only me to hear
Anger I find is ignored with great effort, risking great peril

My thoughts are fleeting and measured by the sentence
I fill my glass of thoughts that come slowly
Then I pour out my glass all at once
I clean it and put it away.

I enjoy accomplishments
But they don’t tell any tale beyond the obvious
Accomplishment can’t sustain joy
Accomplishment measures accomplishment and little more

Experience is it’s own reward and should be noted
It is not to be questioned or diminished
A trip around the world can contain less experience than an evening on a porch
Either can be where the meaning of existence resides

Meaning is something only I can hold
My meaning is of my making
It is suited to me and fits only as well as I can make it
It’s an effort I find worth pursuing

In the end it’s love
It is the only meaning I can summon
The only purpose I can surmise
It fills the craters, it gives them meaning

Love is the only currency that has intrinsic value
It is the only true meaning
It is my sole accomplishment
It is my greatest failing

I sometimes hold it to close
I forget to give it away
I seem to think I can care for it and make it grow without ever letting it go
I am wrong. It’s only the giving of love that ever makes it grow

No one can tell me that love is finite
Love is endlessly regenerating
It is life that I must remember is finite and will only end in death
So I must measure my life by how much love I leave in its wake

Hello. Everythingisokay.

  I don’t think there’s a lot that could make me feel anything short of insanely lucky. My life is great. I have nothing to complain about and as a result I tend not to complain. But to say that life is an unending bowl of cherries, filled with joy and devoid of pain, lapping up happiness and shutting out fear and anxiety would also be untrue. 

My default position is of gratitude. I am thankful for all that’s been granted me.

I’m getting older. I’m not getting old, don’t mistake me. I’m just, you know, getting older. You are too. We all are and have always been. As I get older perspective evolves and I see things I never noticed before. My responses aren’t as quick as they once were, but they’re considerably better informed. I usually benefit from this. You could say I’m in a sweet spot where the benefits of maturing are still outrunning the detriment of decaying. I’m 42.

I’m incredibly thankful to have my young kids at this fairly advanced age for such an endeavour. The challenges are largely physical, if you discount the emotional and financial. My five year old, delightfully, falls asleep in our bed each night. It’s warm and wonderful and something we all love. I am starting to think, however, that he is becoming strategic in his placement atop our king sized bed in hopes of defeating me, getting me to throw up my hands in a moment of surrender and allow him to stay. I’m 6’2″ and 225 and strong and still I dread trying to lift his dead weight, sound asleep, 4 foot even, 56 pound body off the middle of that massive bed. But I do it, because I know the 3 year old is right behind him ready to awake to take up the one free space in our bed come sometime after midnight. 

These are things you don’t necesarrily see coming. There are a ton of others. But rarely are we warned of them and even if we are, we’re not really going to understand until we’re going through it. I solemnly swear, right here, out loud and in public, I will NEVER tell a parent of a newborn that it’s just as hard now. It’s not. Newborns, especially the first one, the one that teaches you everything in a nonstop round the clock barrage of ‘teachable moments’ what it means to be a parent, are life blower uppers. I fully believe that teenagers are as well. As for the rest, don’t believe those bitter, forgetful, wretched souls who try to convince you that they are as hard as 5 year olds. They aren’t. Not by a thousand miles. 

There are other things you learn along the way, about what life becomes. Again, I’m 42 and maybe some people have told me this before and I just wasn’t in a place to understand them. Maybe it’s too scary a thought to process, so you don’t. Maybe you’ve processed this long before I’ve had to as not everyone has the great good fortune that I so thankfully have had. 

I spend portions of everyday fearing that the phone will ring and the world will dissolve around me as I’m told that one or the other or both of my parents have died. My mom knows I suspect as we’ve had a couple of scares and, while nothing’s ever been said, perhaps she hears a fear I’m trying to hide in the way I say ‘hello’, that makes her hasten to say ‘hello,thisismomeverythingisokay.’ 

‘Hello. This is mom. Everything is okay.’ I have a family now and I understand, at least intellectually, how this all fits and works together, this whole circle of life thing. Until recently, last five and change years, to be exact, I’ve come off the stance of thinking to myself, I’d trade everything, including my own life, the own rest of my days, to make sure that is the last thing I hear before leaving this world. On speakerphone, knowing my dad is there listening and waiting to hear the latest stories of the boys successes, excited to tell me about an article he saw with awesome things my friends are doing in the community or them waiting to tell me about an author they think I’ll like or about the party they had the other night with some of the kids to say farewell to their grandson as he headed off for his Jack Kerouac/On The Road adventures. 

I don’t know that others feel this when the phone rings and they see it is their parents. Surely some are understanding of the whole thing and appreciative of hearing from mom and/or dad, as I most certainly am as well. Surely others in a similar situation are merely avoiding, imagining the whole thing impossible, choosing rather to continue to see their parents as the undefeatable, indefatigable pillars they’ve always known them to be, the way they still are, pushing off all thought of the matter until it is upon them. Sounds like a better way to me. Unfortunately I have a temperament that doesn’t allow for such ease of thinking. I can’t stop imagining. It’s a wonderful quality in so many circumstances, truly. But in this stage of life, for me, it’s impossible to put it fully out of mind. 

For me it’s like knowing the earth is going to stop turning on it’s axis and all life will cease to have meaning at some time in my future, in my lifetime, but I can’t know when. It’s just there. Waiting to catch me and remove the ground from beneath my feet. It’s going to hit my chest, hard. Iknow it will. I saw it happen to them. I saw there world crumble. I saw them cry and cry and not know what to do. It only lasted a few moments because they had to take care of me. I was just little after all, as were my brothers and sisters to greater and lesser degrees. But it showed up again as they had to go through the ceremonies and the condolences and the quiet nights alone when they might not have known I was still up and might be coming down to watch tv or grab a drink. Maybe I was exactly what they needed in that moment. I can’t imagine anything less than my own kids being the salvation that will keep me alive after the bomb lands on me. 

I’m fortunate. I’m in a position where I’ve never had to confront an issue so many I love have. My life is one of gratitude and as a child of my parents I’m sure I’ll make it to the finish line, my own finish line, one that will be hopefully at the end of a long and fruitful life as grateful as I am today. But by the time I get there I know I will have passed through times that will test that and I hope I can sustain the weight of all the good fortune I’ll have endured. 

I Don’t Want to Let Go

imageTeddy still babbles. He’ll sit with the Lego Duplo’s and play by himself and there is a stream of playful and emotive gibberish. He has started to use words and and pretend and play make believe with his creations and the figurines, but if I listen in the right way, if I’m able to listen loosely I can still hear the patter of the 2 year old he was.

Being a parent is a lot. Early on we weren’t up to the task. Seriously. We are excellent, loving parents. Any kid, and I mean any kid at all would be lucky to have us. But the truth is that as excellent as we are as parents, we just aren’t very good at it. We don’t revert naturally to routine. We don’t always provide excellent examples and we are just terrible at doing so many of the things that we are ‘supposed’ to do.

Our house is a mess and while it’s better than it was, it’s never gonna be an ordered and soothing environment. I like to think that has to do with our artistic bent, that our clutter and struggle to eliminate is an element of us that is strongly informed by our connectedness and the meaning we see all around us. Meaning that I turn into stories.

imageWe don’t sleep train. We shouldn’t have to at this point, frankly. Our kids are well past the age when that should not be a thing that needs doing. I’m afraid that if our kids are ever to get themselves to bed, it’s gonna happen on it’s own. For now we each take one and we snuggle and struggle and ultimately find them asleep sometime within a couple hours of getting them up the stairs and into their rooms. In my case, with the three year old it is sometimes in the chair after losing the fight of getting him to calm down in his bed. Other times it is both of us on the floor looking up at the green stars on the ceiling that emanate from Winnie’s honey pot when you press the bee. Sometimes we find the moon, other times we find the one constellation, an outline of Mickey Mouse’s head. Yep, Disney even invades their sleep. Still other times it’s on the ‘big boy bed’ the five year old will be moved to once I am able to solve this endlessly flummoxing Rubik’s Cube of a task that I am told should never have been allowed to get to this point. In my moments of confidence, a wonderful if fleeting thing when it comes to my life as a dad, I like to think that whatever we’re losing by not giving them normalized sleep routines is more than made up for by the love and feeling of security we’re giving them by never leaving.

imageWe are inconsistent practitioners of reward systems, a crime doubly indictable as I’ve been designing and implementing such programs for much of my 20+ year career. We don’t practice anything approaching appropriate self-care. The clothes are piled up, usually separated into piles that require sniff tests to determine whether they are clean or dirty. We take them into our bed and let them stay the night. Every time. We are wonderful parents to have as we never fail to give love. But we are just not very good at the component skills.

I’m not complaining. Well, not much. Now that our lives are this way I can honestly say there’s very little I would change. Perhaps I’d employ more consistent rewards or maybe I’d have a few more date nights. I’d certainly have a neater pile of clutter, that’s for sure. Okay, there’s a lot I’d change.

But I won’t, because at this point, this is who we are. We are fumbling through this thing together, imperfect as hell. I’m not saying we refuse to grow or we won’t change. We’re changing all the time, growing all the time. We’re just doing it together. At this point that means we’re messy, tired, together and happy.

imageI don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to hear through the coherent play and listen to the babbling that is working it’s way fully out of my son’s mouth. Truth is I might already have heard the last of it. That’s the thing. Nothing we do is going to stop them from growing up. Nothing I do will keep us from watching life slip ever past. The older they get and the older we get the more clear it becomes that none of it is forever. None of it lasts like I’d like it to.

It kills me to think that I’m ever going to step out, I’m ever going to be finished. With loving and watching and helping and messing up with my kids. That I’m ever going to walk away from my wife who I’ll never see again or that she’ll have to walk away from me. I don’t want any of this to change because for the first time since I was too young to understand the implications of it, I don’t want to ever die.

I want to live forever and never say goodbye. Never grow old. Never die. I want to live this life I have for a million lifetimes. Not some version of it, not some other life, but this one. Mine. With the same pains and the same joys. Now everyday that goes by where I don’t hear my boy babble, like the ones that came before he uttered a sound and relied on us for his every aspect of existence, every tiny change that moves some aspect of their lives to the past is a process. One of letting go. That is how we think of it.

I often think that parenthood is the first time it’s highlighted for you that so much of life is the process of constantly letting go. It is, but it also isn’t. It gives me some agency, some power, some sense that this is my choice. To let go. To slowly choose to hand away life one tiny handful at a time, knowing that at the end the last thing I’ll let go of will be life itself. It’s inevitable. It’ll be all I have left to hand over.

imageThat’s not how it is though, is it? I don’t want to let any of it pass. I want to live equally in the moments where I was three, sitting on my momma’s lap playing with her long hair that flowed out of her ’70’s style bandana, staring at the wooden cross hanging from a leather strap around her neck. I want to spend eternity smiling at the brown lunch bag my father drew pictures on just for me. I want to fall in love for the first time at 12 years old and play act what I thought it meant to lose it all. I want to feel lean and limber and strong and beautiful as I dance with a basketball unafraid of anyone who might wish to stop me. I want to be brash and cocky and altogether terrified on my first day of college and I want the world to open up to me at camp as I found what it was I’d do the rest of my life. I want to meet my wife, sit on those bar stools forever. Falling in love and diving into the unknown. I want to have my kids, meet them for the first time, and I want to watch them grow and marvel at the spectacle. I want all of this to be held. Why would I ever let go of this?

The answer is obvious. We ‘let go’ because we have no choice. Because we can’t choose to hold on. That being said, I want to get as much of this as I can. I want to watch my boy play on the floor with not a care in the world but what the little elephant on the back of his train that he built from Lego’s and imagination is going to do next. Forever.